UK seeks US vow not to execute cleric

Britain will not allow Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to be extradited to the United States unless there is a clear US undertaking that he will not be executed, British Home Secretary has said.

    Abu Hamza gained notoriety after supporting bin Ladin

    David Blunkett told AFP on Friday he would ideally like the extradition of Abu Hamza, who faces 11 terrorism-related charges in the United States, to be carried out within "weeks" rather than months or years. 

    Although some of the charges faced by the Egyptian-born cleric carry a possible death sentence in the United States, Britain would abide by existing agreements that forbid the extradition of suspects if they face execution, Blunkett confirmed. 

    "All I'd say is that we do have an agreement, and we all know it is essential to get the extradition (of Abu Hamza) agreed and that means that there will be an undertaking that whatever else the sentence, it will not lead to execution," Blunkett said on a trip to the city of Sheffield, northern England. 

    The hook-handed cleric, who gained notoriety in Britain after praising Usama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network and using sermons to call for jihad, or Islamic holy war, was arrested at his west London home on Thursday. 


    He remains in custody ahead of a formal extradition hearing in July on charges which include complicity in the December 1998 kidnap of 16 Westerners in Yemen as well as setting up a "terrorist" training camp in the US state of Oregon. 

    Blunkett wants Abu Hamza's
    case to be over within weeks

    Announcing the charge sheet in New York on Thursday, US Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared to leave open the possibility of execution, while US Justice Department officials said later that the situation still had to be resolved. 

    Blunkett, on a campaign trip to Sheffield with British Prime Minister Tony Blair ahead of the 10 June European elections, said he had to be careful about commenting. 

    "The way in which politics in the United States relates to the judicial process is different to in the UK," he told reporters. 

    "I am being extra cautious in what I am saying in order not to
    upset the current process. 

    Speed required

    "I want to ensure that we get the extradition agreed and processed as quickly as possible within the bounds of the human rights of the individual concerned. And I want to make sure that nothing I say damages that process." 

    "I am being extra cautious in what I am saying in order not to
    upset the current process"

    David Blunkett,
    British Home Secretary

    Blunkett stressed that he would ideally like the case to be finished quickly. "We were having to deal with three, four years" in past extradition cases, he said. 

    "I want to get it (Abu Hamza's case) over within weeks, but we have an independent judiciary and independent court system. 

    "I hope they will find it possible to speed that up and to make sure that we can respond to this request in a way that reflects the seriousness of the charges."



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